Why is it so hard to keep your physical & emotional boundaries in a long-distance relationship?
I asked that question in an Instagram story last week, and the overall theme was….
You feel like you need to make up for lost time & show that you love each other.
Those reasons make sense. With physical boundaries, you want to make every moment together count. With emotional boundaries, you want to make up for the lack of physical connection.
But deep down, I’m sure you know that those reasons are not really an excuse for sinning. The boundaries that you and your boyfriend agreed upon weren’t conditions. They were rules.
Maybe that’s part of the problem.
Mere rules can’t keep you from sin
In Colossians 2:20-23, the apostle Paul points out that creating more rules is not going to stop you from sinning.
He writes that rules have “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23)
The problem with rules (like boundaries) is that, on their own, they are useless against things like sexual temptation. As sinful humans, the more rules we have, the more we want to break them.
Relying entirely on rules is not just useless, it’s dangerous. When we create our own standards for what’s good and right, we often forget just how far we fall short of God’s holy standards (Romans 3:23).
Our own rules are easier to meet, so we begin thinking we can do things on our own — do we really need Christ’s sacrifice and salvation?
Yes, we do. If you never touch your boyfriend until you’re married but your heart is cold toward Christ, you will have missed the point of purity.
Worse, you will have missed eternal life with Christ.
Friend, it is so important to realize that the goal of the gospel is not behavior modification, but heart transformation.
God cares about what you do with your body because he cares about you. And because he cares about you, he cares about what’s in your heart.
Before our hands ever reach for places they shouldn’t or our mouths make promises we can’t keep, we cross boundaries in our hearts.
We grasp for the control that only God has, thinking that talking about marriage ensures it will happen. We grasp for the things God hasn’t given us yet, hoping we won’t pay the consequences for sexual sin.
Pursue purity from a transformed heart
The good news is that Paul didn’t stop in Colossians after striking down our trust in our rules. He keeps going in chapter three:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
The Christian life is not about conforming to rules, but being re-made in the image of Christ. This transformation comes through setting our hearts and minds on heavenly things.
And it’s sourced from the new heart God gives us when we turn from sin and trust in him. In Ezekiel 36:26, God promises, ”I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” And 2 Corinthians 5:17 assures us, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
What kinds of actions flow from a new heart? Look at the two commands that Paul gives Timothy in his letters:
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)
“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11)
You must flee sin, AND you must pursue things that are above. All through the power of Christ.
With this mindset, we can’t think about boundaries as just rules.
A better way to think about boundaries
Instead of thinking about your boundaries as rules, what if you thought of them as tools to help you pursue righteousness and live out your freedom in Christ?
There are five reasons boundaries are still worth setting, and five better ways to think about boundaries.
1. Boundaries get you on the same page.
Different Christians have a lot of different views on what “sexual immorality” means in the Bible. You and your boyfriend may come to the relationship with very different expectations.
In this way, boundaries are definitions. Before you set your boundaries, you can spend time searching God’s Word and asking others for advice. Then, you can come together and clearly spell out what things aren’t from above.
2. Boundaries help you pace your relationship.
With a long-distance relationship, you often end up dating a lot longer than you expect or prefer.
And when you date for a long time, it’s important that your emotional and physical intimacy don’t exceed your current level of commitment. In this sense, boundaries are pace-setters.
Sure, you could kiss & talk about getting married on your first date, but what are you going to do for the next two years? You’ll make things a lot harder than they need to be.
3. Boundaries are easy to remember.
Boundaries are also memory tools. When you write something down, you’re more likely to remember it and stick to it.
The moments you need boundaries the most will be the moments your brain will be overwhelmed with emotional & physical stimuli. While the Holy Spirit’s conviction is the most powerful memory-helper, having specific boundaries in place will help provide extra clarity about when you’re heading into sin.
God wants us to love him with our minds (Luke 10:27), so if boundaries improve our memory of his commands, we shouldn’t shy away from them.
4. Boundaries are a commitment to each other.
When you begin dating, you should avoid making too many commitments to each other. But there are a few basic, foundational commitments that can be helpful at the start of a relationship. Setting boundaries is one of them.
Boundaries are commitments to care for one another as fellow believers. Setting boundaries is saying to your boyfriend, “I commit to caring for you as my brother in Christ by pursuing purity with you.”
In this way, breaking a boundary can never be a legitimate way to love your boyfriend, because you’ve committed to loving him the way Christ loves him.
5. Boundaries shift your perspective.
Finally, boundaries are perspective-shifters because they remind you that the goal of your relationship is not earthly pleasure. Christ-centered dating isn’t about doing what makes you feel good, less lonely or more secure.
Christ-centered dating is about seeking Christ. And one of the greatest truths is that you’ll actually have more joy when you’re living the way God intended you to.
Don’t get me wrong: this will involve self-denial. But this kind of self-denial is not motivated by fear (2 Timothy 1:7). It’s powered by the confidence that following God’s commands is the best thing you can do for yourself and your boyfriend in light of eternity.
Moving forward with Christ-centered boundaries
When you view your boundaries as rules, you’ll struggle to be motivated to keep them. But when you pursue purity from a transformed heart, you’ll see boundaries as a way to love Christ and your boyfriend better.
Feeling burdened by a rule-oriented mindset? It’s not too late to set aside your old ways & ask Christ to change your perspective. Like Paul, we can forget what’s behind and press on toward what’s ahead.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phillippians 3:12-14)